Q&A: Nathaniel Hall

Nathaniel Hall’s show, First Time, is currently showing at The Ed Fringe. He took part in one of our Fringe Q & As to tell us more about himself and his show.

AT: Tell us a little about you and an artist and how you came to do what you do…

NH: I’ve been making theatre for 10 years. I originally trained as a performer but fell more into direction, dramaturgy, facilitation and arts marketing roles. I was playing it small because of the big secret I’d been hiding since age 16…

AT: Tell us about your show, what is it about…

NH: First Time is a hilarious and heartbreaking autobiographical solo show about staying positive in a negative world. When I was 16, I contracted HIV from the first person I had sex with – talk about unlucky. I kept it a secret from my family for 14 years, until in 2017, I had a Britney-style meltdown (I didn’t shave my hair off though) and decided to do what any self-respecting person would do, turn it into a show and perform my trauma to audiences night after night. It’s been an amazingly cathartic experience for me and has revolutionised my self worth.

AT: What inspired it?

NH: I made a show with Contact Young Company a few years back about sex and sexuality. These young artists were so bold and brave talking so frankly and openly about love, sex, desire… I knew I had to step up to the plate. Plus, I didn’t see people like me (living healthy lives with HIV) represented in popular culture so I wanted to put a new narrative centre stage – Tom Hanks in Philadelphia just won’t cut the mustard anymore! (Great film btw).

AT: What do you hope people will take away from watching?

NH: One audience member said: ‘I laughed, I cried laughing, and then I just cried.’ It’s a real rollercoaster of emotions but I make sure my audience feels safe to go to difficult places. Hopefully you’ll learn something about HIV prevention too. We’re partnered with HIV Scotland for the festival and we’re helping them (and other charities) in their bid to end all new HIV transmissions by 2030 – it’s ambitious, but with new strategies, medications and increased access to testing, it’s totally possible.

AT: Describe the show in 6 words…

NH: Hilarious, heartbreaking, universal, moving, educational and urgent.

AT: How are you feeling about embarking upon the Edinburgh Fringe? What are you hoping for?

AT: Terrified and excited in equal measure. There is so much amazing work and talent in the city at this time of year! But I keep reminding myself who I made the piece for – anyone who is living in shame and fear, particularly people living with HIV who are stigmatised and discriminated against horrifically. Before each show I have a mantra that says: this is for you, no more shame, no more blame… you’re enough.

Venue 26, Summer Hall, 16:15, Aug 15-18, 20-25 Book Now

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Photo © Dawn Kilner

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Q & A: Kieran Hodgson

Kieran Hodgson brings four shows to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, he took part in a Q and A with us to tell us more.

Interview by Amie Taylor

AT: Tell us a little about you as an artist and how you came to do what you do…

KH: I’m a fella with a lot of hobbies and a good memory for what people said to me at school. In recent years I have learned to combine those into an hour on stage recounting conversations from school while demonstrating a hobby. If you have any hobbies you can recommend then I would be very grateful, as I’ve nearly run out and I may start having to do shows about real things and ’emotions’, which I’m not sure I could cope with.

AT: Tell us about your show, what is it about…

KH: I’m bringing four shows to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, ‘hits’ from previous years that I’m giving a run-out so they don’t get too dusty and so that people don’t think I’m dead or anything. There’s one about when I went on a French Exchange, called ‘French Exchange’, one about my teenage love of cycling and of people who would go on to let me down, called ‘Lance’, one about classical music and being pretentious called ‘Maestro’, and one about the endless drama of the UK’s relationship with Europe, called ”75′. It’s a big old bag of bits and I can’t wait to get them all confused in my head.

AT: What inspired it?

KH: It seemed like a nice challenge, to see if I could do a different show every night and to see if doing them all back-to-back would make me see links between them or things that I ought to change, now having a few more years’ perspective. Mostly I’ve just found that I repeat the same jokes over and over and over again.

AT: What do you hope people will take away from watching?

KH: I hope people will feel that it’s high time I did a new show, and clamour for one, so that I get some good motivation/pressure to come back next year.

AT: Describe the show in 6 words…

KH: French Exchange Lance Maestro Seventy-Five

AT: How are you feeling about embarking upon the Edinburgh Fringe? What are you hoping for?

KH: Edinburgh is a wonderful place to be and it is a great privilege to be able to participate in the world’s biggest arts festival, where year after year audiences help support new artists in finding their voice and finding their feet. It stresses us all out going there but it remains a guiding star in the comedy sky and I hope to be able to return there for many years yet before people’s patience runs out.

’75 Pleasance Courtyard, 18:30, Book Now

French Exchange, Pleasance Courtyard, 18:30, Book Now

Lance, Pleasance Courtyard, 18:30, Book Now

Maestro, Pleasance Courtyard, 18:30, Book Now

(Check booking links for specific dates)

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Ed Fringe Review: Butterflies

3*

We arrive at ZOO Playground on the tail end of the golden hour. It’s deeply peaceful outside. A small truck sells drinks which we sip on cold, damp stone by the grass before lining up to take our seats.

It’s the last moment of peace we get for an hour. Butterflies launches straight into the frenetic, high-emotion world of three young women monologuing on love and social media.

The interweaving of the three women’s plots is reflected in the clothes that cross from body to body. Shannon (Milly Roberts) casually pulls on a jacket on her way out to see her boyfriend; later, Frankie (Georgia Bishop) tries the same jacket wincingly, telling us her grandmother bought it as a present. The set is perfect – I wonder if details like the on-trend Sally Rooney novel or the vintage clothes hanging on the rail have been taken from cast members’ rooms.

The LGBTQ+ element in this comes from Frankie, who definitely (definitely!) still likes boys. Maybe. She is uncertain even as she lights up at a message from her female Tinder match and rolls her eyes at her boyfriend Jack’s texts. This need to convince herself of some lingering attraction to men will ring true for many women who now identify as lesbians.

The acting is great, with each character worming their way into our hearts. Their delivery deftly weaves together three narratives so that although the characters never interact, their stories peak and trough in harmony.

There are points where the combination of the stories doesn’t quite land right. As YouTube influencer Floss (Holly Hudson) deals with a gutting revenge porn plotline, it’s hard to feel that Frankie’s worries about stringing Jack along merit as much angst.

Angst is the core of this show: the loneliness of a young woman whose bedroom is connected to the world through a screen. Sometimes, it’s too much. I wish we had a moment to see the characters’ feelings before the monologue bursts through to tell us.

But the cast don’t flinch from the intensity of the self-loathing the characters feel when their plans break down. These young, passionate women are charmingly sweet to share an hour with, but sweeter still is the sense of relief when, for them, everything gets better in the morning.

Butterflies runs at Zoo Playground (V186) until 26th Aug – 20:05. Book now.

© A. Lewis 2019

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Review: The Last Song of Oliver Sipple

The King’s Head Theatre
4*

What a fascinating true story this is, and what an excellent job writer David Hendon has done of turning it into an engrossing and enlightening one-man drama. Director Peter Taylor and actor Jackson Pentland complete the creative team, and together they have produced a moving tribute to an overlooked figure from American gay history.

Oliver “Billy” Sipple was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1941. Pentland gives a sensitive performance of a good-hearted but somewhat naïve young man, patriotic and seemingly out of touch with his sexuality. As a young boy, Billy falls in love with music and the joy of singing, but he’s one of those kids who somehow just doesn’t fit in…

Billy joins the marines and serves in the Vietnam War, until hit by shrapnel in his chest and leg. Invalided out of the army, he experiences his sexual awakening at the clubs and bath houses of New York, becoming active on the scene there and in San Francisco, and meeting and befriending activist Harvey Milk. But all this was kept secret from his family back in Detroit, who had no idea of Billy’s homosexuality.

In 1975, Billy was among those in a crowd waiting to catch a glimpse of President Gerald Ford as he left a San Francisco hotel. A lone gunwoman fired at the president, and missed. Billy instinctively grappled with her, preventing the second shot from hitting Ford.

Billy was an instant hero, with talk of an invitation to the White House to be thanked in person by the president. Billy was anxious to keep his sexuality out of the media, but for Harvey Milk the opportunity to have a “gay hero” role model was too good to miss. Billy was outed to the press, and his gayness became the headline. The president was suddenly too busy to meet. The news didn’t go down well back in Detroit, and Billy never managed to rebuild his relationships with his family.

Music serves an important purpose in the play, with scenes punctuated by snatches of songs from the time, to which Pentland dances with simple but joyful grace. There’s something pure about these little interludes, hinting perhaps at a happier state that was never to be. In reality, Sipple spent years trying unsuccessfully to sue for breach of privacy, and died in 1989, a victim of declining health and alcoholism.

There’s real heart in this production, and plenty to identify with. Swept up in a national media storm against his will, there’s a sense that Billy wasn’t really the author of his own story: his frustration as events evolve beyond his control is palpable, and his helplessness in the face of his mother’s disappointment is heart-breaking.

As well as Billy, Pentland expertly portrays an array of other characters, deftly transforming his voice and physicality to differentiate each of them. My one niggle was that Pentland’s accent for Billy himself didn’t sound quite right to my ears, though my companion didn’t find this a problem.

The Last Song of Oliver Sipple ran for just two performances in July. I hope it has a further life – do look out for it, as it’s a beautiful piece of theatre telling a remarkable story.

© Nick Myles 2019

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Q and A: Chris Parker

“New Zealand’s beloved sissy Chris Parker (as seen in Netflix’s The Breaker Upperers) is mincing his way over to Edinburgh with his award-winning Camp Binch. Winner of Best Show at NZ International Comedy Fest 2018, Camp Binch delivers a hilarious and cathartic retelling of growing up gay in conservative New Zealand.”

Chris Parker answered a few questions about himself and his show as part of a series of Ed Fringe Q and As we are running this year. Questions by Amie Taylor.

AT: Tell us a little about you as an artist and how you came to do what you do…

CP: My name is Chris Parker, Im an actor, writer, comedian in New Zealand. Basically I was a born show off, it was a real problem for my family until they decided to enrol me into ballet classes. That lead into acting, which lead into drama school. Then out of a necessity to perform I started comedy, because there were more opportunities. Now I show off for a living. 

AT: Tell us about your show, what is it about…

CP: Camp Binch documents my experience trying to fit in with all the boys at school and exposing more truthful aspects of myself in the process. It’s about not fitting in with your surroundings. I’ve given up trying to blend in, so I promise it’s not a show about how to stay in the closet. God, imagine if my show was 10 hot tips for staying in closet for the rest of your life. 

AT: What inspired it?

CP: I went back to my old high school to give a speech to the students and was shocked at the school lack of care and support for their LGBTQ+ students. That started a 36 page email thread with their current headmaster and then the writing of this comedy show.

AT: What do you hope people will take away from watching?

CP: Well ideally people come and make their own minds about what they take away from it. There is some what of a small empowering message hidden in there. But I also hope the audience take away that I’m good at comedy.

AT: Describe the show in 6 words…

CP: Big Laughs Big Feels Big Hands

AT: How are you feeling about embarking upon the Edinburgh Fringe? What are you hoping for?

CP: That question always freaks me out, like I should have some grand master plan! I’m hoping to share my story, share my comedy, have a great time and ideally perform to a minimum of 3 people a night. IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK FOR!

Camp Binch runs at Assembly George Square Studios (V17) until 25th Aug at 18:50.  Book now.

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Interview: Victor Esses

Victor Esses is currently up at the Edinburgh Fringe, with his show, Where to Belong.

“Victor Esses is Jewish-Lebanese, Brazilian, and gay. In 1975, Victor’s mother flees Lebanon as a refugee of the Civil War. In 2017, Victor visits Lebanon for the first time. In 2018, amidst the elections that will see Brazil choose a far-right president, he travels from London to São Paulo to show his partner the city of his childhood.”

We caught up with Victor to find out a bit more about this piece.

AT: Tell us a little about you as an artist and how you came to be doing what you’re doing now…

VE: I’m a Theatre and Performance Maker. I work with live art, storytelling and autobiographical material to investigate belonging and human connection for imagining and creating better futures. I like to make work that is very lo fi, real, simple in its execution and that it touches. I moved to the UK from Brazil to study film but went into theatre directing straight after uni. I directed many international texts in translation but felt like performing my own work, I always wanted to write autobiographical material and I started to channel that in my performance work that led me to Where to Belong. And after that to Unfamiliar, a show I made with my partner about queer families.

AT: You’re currently at the Fringe with your show, Where to Belong; in your own words, what is it about?

VE: Where to Belong is about connection and disconnection, about finding oneself and having to let go of people in order to do that. It’s about the migrant experience and the queer experience. About home and belonging.

It’s a show in which I invite the audience into my rehearsal studio to talk about home and identity, while I tell them stories of growing up in Brazil, being part of the Jewish community and moving to the UK at the age of 18, I ask them about their childhood feelings, their favourite food, and with this they help me tell mine and their stories. It all started when I went to Beirut, my parents’ hometown, for the first time and realised that the middle eastern identity was also a huge part of me. I speak of war, family, home, love, miscommunication and prejudice, while I create familiar images with simple objects found in my studio, in a multimedia environment where things transform all the time. Along the way of making this show a lot happened in Brazil, my country of birth, where the far-right took over and homophobia became very pronounced. This show is a call for connection, for looking at the other and realising our similarities more than anything.

AT: What inspired you to make it?

VE: In January 2017 I visited my parents hometown of Beirut, in Lebanon for the first time and that triggered a lot of questions about my identity, having been born and grown up in Brazil and then moved to London when I was 18 to be able to live my life as I wanted as a gay man. All of these quests inspired me. I speak of war, family, home, love, miscommunication and prejudice, while I create familiar images with simple objects found in my studio, in a multimedia environment where things transform all the time. 

AT: What do you hope audiences will take away from watching?

VE: The audience is a big part of this show as I talk to them and ask them questions about their own childhoods, all in a very warm and inviting way. I bring them into my story and ask them to help me tell mine and their stories. And I hope that they have an emotional, cozy, sometimes sad, but very hopeful experience. And that they can look at the people around them in a more open way and find more acceptance to themselves as well.

AT: Why do you feel it’s an important piece for 2019?

VE: This piece speaks of so many things that are very current in our times. When I started making it this wave of divisiveness, exclusivity and individuality was reaching high ground. The more time passed the wave of right wing everywhere has been growing and spreading prejudice, racism, homophobia. Especially is Brazil where I grew up, homophobia is so overt these days with the rise of the new president, and I speak a bit about this in the show and the journey to São Paulo with my partner during the elections of that man. But also in Europe and all over really we hear of attacks to the lgbt+ community, to the migrant communities. This show is an antidote to that, a care and love attack back.

AT: Which artists / companies inspire you?

VE: My influences include the Swiss director Marthaler whose images are so simple and yet monumental, breath-taking and moving, Peeping Tom’s way to explore relationships and Chris Goode’s daring simplicity and way of breaking theatrical rules. All of them and others makes me feel alive. I’m very mesmerised by lots of my peers too.

AT: What are your post-Fringe plans? (If you have any?)

VE: Where to Belong will tour the UK in 2020. And I’m about to confirm the tour for my latest show Unfamiliar, about queer families also for next year. We opened CASA Festival at Arcola Theatre with it last July and will go back to rework it at the Marlborough, Brighton in January next year. Immediately after the Fringe I’ll get back to rewriting a play I have been developing at Soho Theatre’s Writer’s Lab about brotherhood and where we can connect with people who are very different to us. And there are other projects starting to be developed in Autumn. And I’m starting to develop a brand new project about keeping and letting go in life, and Marie Kondo.

Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Summer Hall, 10.10am
Book Now

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Interview: Travis Alabanza

Travis Alabanza’s show Burgerz has been hugely successful since it started out at the Hackney Showroom in 2018. It’s now on tour, concluding at the Southbank Centre at the end of November, but more pressingly is currently showing at the Edinburgh Fringe for the next month. The show came from a moment in which someone threw a burger at Travis and shouted a transphobic slur, which sparked their obsession with burgers. This show declares itself as the climax of their obsession – ‘exploring how trans bodies survive and how, by them reclaiming an act of violence, we can address our own complicity.’ It was a joy to speak to Travis last week about this show and their work, read on to find out more. 

Interview by Amie Taylor.

AT: Can you share a little bit about you as an artist and how you came to be at the point you’re at now.

TA: I didn’t grow up with the arts around me, I grew up on a council estate in Bristol and none of my family had arts as a profession, we didn’t go to the theatre when I was younger; it wasn’t until I joined a youth theatre at 15, that I started to think performance might be my thing. But it never really worked, because my mum told me I wasn’t allowed to go to drama school, so I went to university and found the queer clubs, and the cabaret clubs and that was my way in to live art. I feel like arriving at theatre has been by chance. 

AT: What is it you’re setting out to do with your work?

TA: I guess when I make work, what I’m always aiming to do is create an action. I’m not really interested in myself making work which doesn’t force an audience to do something or change something. I’ve always been in to organising a community of activists around me, although I wouldn’t call myself an activist, I think if I’m putting art out in to the world, it has to create other activists in the world and make some kind of change. 

AT: Moving on to talk about Burgerz, is there an action you hope people will take away from seeing that show?

TA: Yes, I think there’s a really clear ask in Burgerz. Some work that I make isn’t super clear, on purpose, but I think Burgerz is a really clear ask and it’s basically talking about being a bystander and the complexities around letting violence happen, and putting the onus of violence less on to the person that experiences it, and not even really on the attacker, but on the people that witness it and do nothing. I want people to realise that they have to stand up when they see violence happen, but perhaps in a more nuanced way, because I think we all like to think we would stand up and do something, but time and time again we are seeing queer and trans people say that that’s not the case. And Burgerz is really interrogating why some people get stood up for and other people don’t. 

AT: Burgerz has been really successful, why do think it’s spoken so clearly to so many people?

TA: It’s funny when people say it’s a success, because I’m still completely nervous about it every single time. I think for a trans show to go from the Hackney Showroom, which is a beautiful, amazing venue, but definitely a queer safe space, to be going to the Southbank Centre, I think what it needed was to go beyond it’s queer and trans bubble. I don’t think every show I make will be for non queer and trans people, but for this show I knew that I wanted people that are hurting us to also see this show and also connect with it. And it came about at a time where we’ve obviously seen an complete rise in anti-trans rhetoric, BBC just released the stat that there’s an 80% rise in trans hate crime just from last year. So I think the show sits directly alongside the climate we’re currently in. So you have a show that presents an argument, and an argument you can’t really debate with. 

AT: How is it for you engaging with this content very, very regularly – and if you’re happy to share, how do you look after yourself in that process?

TA: I was really nervous when I made the show, because I was thinking ‘How is this going to feel in a year? Will I still want to tell it?’ I have a really amazing director, Sam, and he felt the show needed another element to keep it fresh every single time. For me the fact that Burgerz isn’t just about the trauma, but it becomes about the other person, really helps me, because I’m actually not going in to myself as heavily. A lot of the reviews say it’s really funny; when people come out and are crying and focussed on all of the violence, I say to them ‘But didn’t you have a laugh as well?’ And they often say ‘Yeah, I laughed for most of the show.’ And that helps me be in it; I see people laugh and smile and realise that I’m funny; a trans person of colour can often only be seen as an emblem of trauma, and being able to be seen as humorous and sassy and funny helps me get through it every time. 

AT: How are you feeling about heading to the Fringe?

TA: I am SO nervous. [They laugh]. I can’t even lie. I am shitting it. I’ve never done Edinburgh Fringe before.  I’ve been a guest spot in someone’s cabaret night before, but I’ve never been in a show for a whole month. Everyone tells horror stories about Fringe. I was feeling fine until people started talking about it as though it was some dark lagoon. I’m also nervous about having a show in the same place for 30 days.  But there are also so many incredible artists around me, so I’ll just focus on that, and I’ll get to see some amazing people’s work. And when I de-centre myself and think about the incredible trans artists that are going to be there, that makes me so excited. I’m really excited by Mika Johnson’s show, Pink Lemonade. And really looking forward to Emma Frankland’s Hearty too. 

Burgerz is showing at The Traverse Theatre throughout August – dates and times vary, so head to the Ed Fringe page for more information.

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© Elise Rose